Amanda Hamilton is sitting in the lounge of the Opus Hotel, enjoying a cup of herbal tea and sharing her excitement for opening an office for her interior design practise here in Vancouver. While she tries, at least a little, to restrain herself, it is nigh impossible, and she almost jumps out of her deeply cushioned seat while she talks about her Calgary-based company growing westward. “We will open in the Werklab space, which is such a great fit for us,” she says. “But down the road, maybe even a few months, we will have our own office.”
The move to Vancouver is not only about West Coast design opportunities, although that is a big part of it. “In Calgary, we rely so heavily on oil and gas,” Hamilton reflects. “Vancouver is a more diverse business atmosphere, so we can flex our creative muscles in a different way, and be able to survive the economic downturns that happen to Calgary from time to time.” In those declines, even residential projects become rarer, but commercial design work virtually disappears. So having the two offices greatly increases Hamilton’s ability to keep a constant workflow. Plus, she says, she is “absolutely in love” with the West Coast lifestyle.
The expansion presents new challenges, but new adventures, too. “We can’t work on an ocean view in Calgary, of course. So choices about how to fill a space are quite different than in Vancouver, where glassy, clean spaces are needed to break up concrete and stucco,” explains Hamilton. “Artwork, furniture, colours, it is all quite different in each city.” She sits back, at least momentarily, and adds, “Still, there will likely be some Calgary inspiration brought to Vancouver.”
What Hamilton brings, inevitably, to the equation is an optimization of space, emphasizing sight lines, deliberately drawing people to certain accents while feeling comfortable, a timeless quality with vivid modern touches. So: splashes of colour, usually a work of art, catching the eye; cowhide carpets (more in Calgary than in Vancouver); Moroccan, Indian, West African throw rugs, handmade by artisans out of rags, a time-honoured tradition that somehow looks exactly right in an expansive, glass-dominated room or two. It is classicism with what Hamilton calls ” a raw feel.” With bespoke furniture and a line of handmade dishes, Hamilton creates a completely unique living space for each client.
She is passionate about her chosen field, but recognizes that its growing popularity comes as a double-edged sword. “With all the television shows, social media, clients have never been more knowledgeable about design, and they are certainly passionate about it. So, sometimes, it becomes a bit of an educational process,” explains Hamilton. “I mean, people have the right to have an answer to the question, ‘Why do we need an interior designer at all? We have good taste ourselves.’ In the past, the design aspect was in the hands of the architect, but as things evolved, interior design started to emerge as an important part of how people built their habitable spaces.”
There is, underneath all the enthusiasm and delight, a certain thoughtfulness about Hamilton. “My family were almost all educators, so I take that part of the job quite seriously,” she says. “I’d like to leave the design community in better shape than when I came into it, if possible.” Spend an hour or two with her, and it certainly does seem possible.
It is exciting times, but with such a big change in how her business is run, Hamilton is self-aware, too. “I like a good challenge, but I am a little nervous in the belly about this,” she admits. “Still, I feel so inspired. We never copy others, and we don’t copy ourselves, either. So this opportunity, to work in two fantastic and very different markets, will mean we can continue exploring, learning, sharing. It’s a great time for sure.”
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